> Late contact delivers dramatic end to 2019 title fight
> Balfe and Bell claim McLaren 720S GT3’s first British GT win
> Barwell salvage Teams’ crown after #DoningtonDecider curse strikes again
> Result: Donington Park
> Points: Drivers’ | Teams’
Graham Davidson and Jonny Adam are 2019 British GT3 champions following a dramatic season finale at Donington Park in which Shaun Balfe and Rob Bell secured a maiden race victory for their McLaren 720S GT3.
Fifth place was ultimately sufficient to clinch the crown for TF Sport’s #47 Aston Martin duo after Dennis Lind’s post-race penalty saw them leapfrog ahead of Sam De Haan and Jonny Cocker in the final standings. The result helped Adam take a record-extending fourth senior title with as many different co-drivers in five years, while fellow Scot Davidson clinched a maiden championship in just his second British GT season.
The duo travelled to the Leicestershire venue as one of five crews in contention for the championship but, crucially, lying just six points shy of the lead. Victory last time out at Brands Hatch also ensured the #47 Aston Martin would serve a 20-second Success Penalty during its mid-race pitstop, which posed a major hurdle for starting-driver Davidson during the opening stint.
The chances of a TF Sport title appeared to have been reduced further by Saturday's qualifying result, which saw Adam Balon and Phil Keen book a front-row starting spot with their championship-leading Barwell Lamborghini, while Balfe’s McLaren secured pole for a second successive race.
Contact between GT4 runners during the formation lap led to a single-file start, which simplified Balfe's task when the green flag eventually flew. The leading McLaren was subject to a 15-second Success Penalty for finishing second at Brands Hatch, though any suggestion that it could cost the squad a shot at victory was dispelled as Balfe quickly disappeared from the pack.
Indeed, Balfe's performance during the opening hour was nothing short of sensational. The McLaren driver was almost half-a-minute clear by the conclusion of his stint after setting fastest lap at that stage by almost a second.
Behind, the action grew more intense with every lap. The first major storyline was the unravelling of Balon's title hopes as the Lamborghini driver lost second spot to Ian Loggie (RAM Mercedes-AMG) early on and struggled to regain his rhythm thereafter. He subsequently fell behind the Century BMW of Angus Fender and later made contact with a GT4 class KTM, allowing both Davidson and Dominic Paul (Century BMW) to sweep past. A damaged toe link would have further repercussions later on.
Davidson provided another important storyline during the opening stint. The Scottish driver was in combative mood from the outset, the body language of his car suggesting that the Aston was in a major hurry.
This much was clear when he put two wheels on the grass while attempting to pass the recovering Loggie for third after the Mercedes-AMG ran off-track. While that move didn't quite come off, it was an indication that Davidson was taking no prisoners in his pursuit of the title. Shortly afterwards, he made a pass on Loggie stick.
Balfe enjoyed a commanding advantage when the pitstops began after 62 minutes and, even with his Success Penalty, faced no serious risk of losing the lead. The experienced Bell therefore took over the car in a strong position to capture a maiden British GT win for the McLaren 720S. With no additional time to serve in the pits Callum Macleod was able to assume second spot after replacing Loggie in the RAM Mercedes-AMG, while the Century BMW – now with Jack Mitchell at the wheel after replacing Fender – settled into third after remaining stationary for an additional 10 seconds.
With the #72 Barwell Lamborghini sliding down the order the sister #69 Huracan emerged as TF Sport’s most likely title threat. Davidson had gapped Sam De Haan to the extent that Adam was able to serve the car’s 20-second penalty and pull away just metres ahead of the Barwell Lamborghini, which now had Jonny Cocker at the wheel.
Meanwhile, any hope of Barwell’s #72 Lamborghini recovering disappeared when the earlier damage sent Keen spearing off track at Craner Curves. Another visit to the pits would cost them several laps and ended any lingering title aspirations for the long-time points leaders.
Adam had appeared comfortable in fourth, only for a collision in the GT4 pack to bring out the Safety Car. There were 23 minutes on the clock when racing resumed and the TF Sport Aston was soon under pressure from both Cocker and Dennis Lind in the #18 WPI Motorsport Lamborghini. The Danish driver was the quickest of the trio and eventually moved past Cocker into fifth, but the battle would simmer for some time before coming to the boil.
With just four minutes left on the clock Lind had edged closer than ever to Adam. As he sought to find a way past, the Lamborghini made contact with the Aston's rear, causing damage to the TF Sport machine and allowing Lind to draw alongside. Cocker used this to his advantage, diving up the inside and passing both cars. With Lind also completing his move Adam was relegated to sixth, and the #69 Barwell Lamborghini was suddenly in title-winning position.
At the front Bell’s lead had been cut to a little under three seconds as Macleod made inroads while negotiating traffic, though ultimately this was not enough to put the win in doubt. The McLaren took the chequered flag to secure its maiden British GT triumph, as well as Balfe’s first victory since 2003.
Macleod finished second in the RAM Mercedes-AMG while Century’s Silver Cup-winning BMW made it back-to-back overall podiums. Next came the two Lamborghinis, with Cocker taking fourth ahead of Lind. Adam was sixth on the road, having fallen away during the final few laps.
De Haan and Cocker were therefore provisionally champions by just 0.5 points, although it was immediately apparent the contact between Lind and Adam would be reviewed post-race. The subsequent investigation concluded that the Danish driver had gained an inadvertent advantage, for which he was handed a five-second penalty. Adam therefore moved back ahead of the WPI Lamborghini into fifth spot – a result that sealed the 2019 British GT title for TF Sport’s Aston Martin pairing. The eventual winning margin of just 2.5 points is the smallest of Adam’s four title triumphs.
Seb Morris crossed the line in seventh place aboard the JRM Bentley he shares with Rick Parfitt Jnr after both were involved in separate skirmishes with Optimum’s Aston Martin at opposite ends of the race. Behind, the top-10 was completed by a trio of Aston Martins, with the #99 Beechdean AMR machine coming home ahead of the aforementioned #96 and #2 TF Sport entry, which claimed Sunoco Fastest Lap in the hands of Nicki Thiim. The Danish ace’s 1m27.896s also represented a new GT3 benchmark for Donington’s GP circuit.
While the Drivers’ title again eluded them, Barwell Motorsport did reclaim the British GT3 Teams’ title after beating TF Sport by 47 points. Cocker and De Haan also scooped Pro/Am honours while the latter was crowned Blancpain Driver of the Year.